Watching PS I Love You’s video for the song “Get Over,“ two things become clear: the duo love Kingston and the Tragically Hip. During a recent conversation with singer-gutiarist Paul Saulnier, he revealed that the video is a reference to the Hip’s video for “Small Town Bringdown,” juxtaposing shots of a house party with shots of the city. PS I Love You—made complete by drummer Benjamin Nelson—just released their third album, For Those Who Stay, a record made shortly after Saulnier left Kingston for Toronto, so naturally, it’s a perfect time to reflect on the Limestone City’s influence his music.
When we asked Saulnier about the city’s imprint on his music, he called the Kingston influence “subtle.” “I’ve never thought about it this way until now, but all of our Kingston references only make sense if you live here,” he says. “In one of our new songs, ‘For Those Who Stay,’ I make reference to ‘crawlers’ and how they want to grind me up into the floor…. Everyone who lives in Kingston would know what I’m talking about, because for some reason, all the homes in Kingston are infested with centipedes. So people call them ‘Kingston crawlers.'”
As for the title of the record, was Saulnier trying to reference his own departure? “More or less. It’s a very transient city, so it’s also in reference to everyone I’ve known while living there who has come and gone. I had lots of great friends in Kingston, but every few years. everyone moves. You stay, while everyone else around you is moving away, which has a weird effect on your brain. In that song I tried to imagine what if everyone who left had stayed. So it’s kind of a fantasy song in that respect.”
Still, plenty of bands have chosen to pursue their craft in Kingston. Here are some of Saulnier’s favourites.
The Tragically Hip
“In Canada, if anyone thinks of Kingston, they automatically think of the Tragically Hip. They’re a great band with a huge, long career. My favourite song by them, which might even be their first single, is ‘Small Town Bringdown.’ It’s a song about Kingston and it’s really great. I like the way they sounded in the ‘80s, like a blues-rock R.E.M. kind of vibe. We ended up listening to their first EP a lot in the tour van. So that song, and ‘Last American Exit,’ which is about being on the road and coming home to Kingston through New York State, hit home with us. Even though they might be too obvious of a band to mention for a thing like this, they are an important band.”
“Sticking in the ‘90s for a minute. The Inbreds were a duo. They were from Oshawa originally but then they moved to Kingston, and that’s when they started putting out all their tapes and CDs and whatnot. When I was a teenager I would see them a lot on MuchMusic and stuff, and found it pretty inspiring. Two dudes from Kingston making their own weird music. They were just bass and drums, but the bass was melodic and choral. They just made perfect little pop rock songs.
“They eventually ended up moving to Halifax and signed to Sloan’s label, Murderrecords, and put out a lot of great records with them. They eventually disbanded, I think, at the very end of the ‘90s, but every now and then they’ll get back together for a show. We got to open for them once, and it was great. I think it was at Kingston’s Skeleton Park Music Festival, which over the past five or six years has become a very important summer music festival there.”
“This was Sarah Harmer’s band before she went solo. I still have the Cold Snap vinyl; that album had a huge impact on me. Being able to see those bands play shows, all-ages shows, as a teenager, it helped make me realize that being a musician was the right thing to do.
“Sarah Harmer’s solo music is also really great, and she’s still connected with a lot of the music here in Kingston. Like Mike O’Neill from the Inbreds, who I got to see play a show at Sarah Harmer’s house. It was just like a house show, two years ago. Those two musicians are still doing great stuff, so it’s kind of cool now that we’re established we can get to know a lot of the important Kingston musicians of the past 20 years.”
[bandcamp id=”885786536″ mode=”track”]
“There’ve been a lot of great bands in Kingston more recently that have since come and gone. All the members of Sleuth Bears moved away once they finished school, but there was a period of time where you could’ve seen them play at least once a month. Every show always got better and a little different. They put out a couple of tapes. They worked with our producer Matt Rogalsky on those. My favourite song by them is called ‘First Place Runner.’
“They played rock and roll music I suppose, but the thing that makes it interesting is the way the songs stick together. The elements of their songs are all loose, but they stick together really well. Neven [Lochhead, guitar/vocals]’s singing style is very unique. Sometimes they had a bit of a Replacements vibe, which I’m down with. But they’re a little less heart-on-sleeve and more nerdy-minds. They were a great band and I’m sure the members are all going to go off and make great music, but they’ve all moved away.”
“Old Haunt started in Kingston but the singer Lucas lives in Montreal now. The band features our producer, Matt Rogalsky, who is also from Kingston.”
“She started performing a lot while she was going to Queens. She eventually formed a band under her name with a couple of other Kingston guys. Now she lives in Toronto and is still working on good music. For a couple years, when she’d play a show, I’d see her every time I could. She’s just so good. It’s one of those things where you hear her sing a song and you feel like you know it, even though obviously you don’t.”
“I was actually in this band, but I don’t actually consider it to be my band. I just played bass. Mark Streeter, who is the singer and main songwriter for Try Harder, also plays drums for Dorothea. So that’s a neat little connection there. I think that Mark just wrote really great songs and I was really happy to be a part of that band. He lives in Montreal now, but he goes on tour with us as our driver. So we’re still in touch. Hopefully I’ll make music with him again someday, but his band Try Harder was excellent.”
“I was also in False Face with Mark, and played drums in that band. They weren’t really my songs, so I feel comfortable telling people to like them. That band was a lot noisier. I’m not a very solid drummer, so it was just about the overall sound and vibe, and the kind of power behind it all. Things in that band got kind of messy, but people still came out to see it.”
Photo via The Artel
“There’s a place in Kingston called the Artel. It’s not a band, but I feel like it deserves mention. It’s an artist-run space; a house where the main floor has been converted into a gallery space. When PS I Love You was first starting out, we played there a lot. We still play there sometimes just for fun. If there’s anything new and interesting happening in Kingston that’s the place to find it.”